Never in my four years of college was studying abroad top on my priority list. I was never bit by the wanderlust bug and the thought of flying half way around the world by myself and living in a place I didn’t know with people I just met for an entire month scared me to death…but that’s exactly what I did—and I wouldn’t change it for the world. They say that traveling to new places, meeting new people and experiencing new things really changes your outlook and appreciation of life and I had no doubt that it would do just that for me, but what I didn’t know was the way it was going to change me as a journalist and help me to fall back in love with the simple act of telling a good story.
The first day of the program was intimidating. We sat through almost eight hours of class listening to our professors list the thousands of things we had to accomplish within a short three weeks: find a good story, conduct interviews, take pictures for a 12-frame picture story, write captions, gather details, write, re-write, edit and finally finalize a 1,500 word feature article for a magazine. And let’s also keep in mind we were in a foreign country. Traveling to sources was not easy, communicating with people was not easy, meeting ethical standards was not easy…basically I was tasked with doing something that I could barely do in my own country in my own language and through my own countries’ ethical journalistic practices—but from the start I told myself: I want this to be one of the best pieces I have ever written.
I wanted it to be the best piece I had ever written for all the reasons you always want a story to be your best but after meeting Giuliano and his son Alessandro at their little olive farm in the beautiful mountains of the La Marche region of Italy, I wanted it to be the best piece I had ever written because I wanted to make people feel the way I felt when they told me their story. I wanted my readers to feel like they knew these people, I wanted them to be curious about this fascinating olive liquor they were producing, and I wanted them to feel saddened by the fact that this business could cease to exist because of a parting of generations.
When I set out to report, I thought my story was going to be about Giuliano. I had learned that he had worked as a bodyguard for the Pope and that he started producing something that no one else in the world was making as a way to de-stress from the hectic life living in the Vatican. I thought that he couldn’t have been a more perfect person to center my piece around—the only problem…he didn’t speak a lick of English. When I sat down with him for the first time I spoke through a translator and the process was not only confusing but he had a hard time opening up to me because he was shy about the fact that I didn’t speak his language. Alessandro sat next to him though, coaxing answers out of his dad and often times explaining things to me through broken English and elementary Italian. I got one shot with Giuliano and after that he didn’t want to speak to me again, let alone let me take pictures of him, so I quickly changed my focus to Alessandro. As the story progressed, Alessandro started to become just as curious and fascinated about me and my life as I was about him and his life. I would come back to the farm three or four times and with each time I returned Alessandro began to welcome me as an old friend.
I soon realized that this wasn’t going to be the best story I had ever written, it was more about being the best story I had ever reported. I learned that you can be the best writer out there, heck there were great writers in the study abroad program, but out of everyone my story was the one to win “Best Story” because of the reporting. I never felt like I was done reporting, I always had a desire to want to learn more and it wasn’t until I exhausted everyone helping me that I finally took to putting words on paper. I learned that stories don’t always go as planned but you just have to keep being curious because curiosity is what leads to the best stories you ever write.